Ukraine was beginning to look like a banana republic yesterday after a pro-Western "orange" coalition government that has been three months in the making disintegrated before it could even do one day's work.
The unexpected twist leaves Ukraine without effective political leadership more than three months after holding parliamentary elections, leaves many of its political protagonists with egg on their faces, and may open the door to a pro-Russian coalition government that is determined to reverse the results of the country's orange revolution.
The turmoil could also trigger the disbanding of the current parliament and the holding of fresh elections, which would leave the country in political limbo for a further three months.
Under the constitution the country has just 13 days before it must form a new government or hold new elections. The crisis comes at a time when Ukraine may be threatened with a new gas row with Russia and as the country's economy is faltering as foreign investors stand by incredulously.
When Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian President, swept to power in 2004 in the orange revolution, those who voted for him were filled with optimism. That has given way to cynicism and dismay, and there is a feeling among many orange voters that the country is rudderless.
The orange coalition - made up of the Our Ukraine party of Mr Yushchenko, the Fatherland party of the fiery left-winger Julia Tymoshenko, and the Socialist party - imploded as it was poised to crown Ms Tymoshenko as Prime Minister. It was a moment preceded by months of backroom negotiations, threats, drama, and tit-for-tat accusations, and it had been widely thought that the orange coalition was a done deal.
However the tedious yet crucial process of forming a government was plunged into crisis at the last minute by what looks to the outside world like a detail - who will be the Rada's (parliament's) speaker.
In Ukraine the speaker's job is crucial, though, and the coalition fell apart after the small Socialist party managed to get its own leader - Aleksander Moroz - elected as speaker, in breach of the coalition agreement, which had earmarked the job for a member of Mr Yushchenko's party. Members of his party and Ms Tymoshenko's party were last night calling Mr Moroz "a traitor". As a political vacuum opened up the pro-Russian politician, Viktor Yanukovych, the main loser of the orange revolution but the winner of March's parliamentary elections, stepped into the breach. He appeared to be close to forming a coalition government with the Ukrainian Communist party and the Socialist party last night.Reuse content